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The Morning After: Chicago

Posted Dec 5, 2011

Chiefs defense leads the way once again


CHICAGO, IL – It pays to be in the right spot at the right time. Especially when it involves batted passes in the end zone.

Dexter McCluster and Jon McGraw turned in two of Sunday’s biggest plays off second-chance catches.

McCluster’s positioning resulted in the only touchdown of Kansas City’s 10-3 victory in Chicago. It came off a 38-yard Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds of the first half when Bears LB Brian Urlacher followed football’s defensive handbook and batted Tyler Palko’s prayer towards the turf.

Urlacher utilized a good strategy. It’s the right strategy. Unfortunately, for Urlacher, it’s a strategy that doesn’t account for a 5’8” jitterbug weaving into the end zone as a trail player.

“We work on that play every Friday,” McCluster explained. “You never know what play it’s going to be, but I’m the guy that’s looking for any tipped balls. It worked out perfectly. He tipped the ball right to me.

“Once I saw how he was going to hit the ball down, I knew it was going to come right to me. So I just prepared myself for it and it fell right into my lap.”

Though McCluster’s improbable catch ended up putting enough points on the scoreboard to claim victory, it took another battled ball to seal the Chiefs win.

With the Bears showing their first signs of an offensive pulse, quarterback Caleb Hanie completed four straight passes to reach Kansas City’s red zone with just more than four minutes left to play.

Hanie’s fifth pass in as many plays should have resulted in a game-tying touchdown reception. Instead, the pass hit WR Roy Williams square in the chest before it was batted into the air by S Kendrick Lewis and ricocheted again by LB Derrick Johnson.

McGraw followed the ping pong flow of the football before diving and scooping up the interception just before it touched the ground. Chicago wouldn’t threaten again.

“I saw him throw it and my eyes went to the receiver,” said McGraw, who was closing in on Williams from behind. “Then I just saw a bunch of guys throwing their hands up and the ball kind of squirting through. I was able to scoop it up just in time before it hit the ground.”

The game itself was an offensive disaster. Two reserve quarterbacks struggling to move the football, backup running backs carrying the rushing load and a combined 18 punts between the two teams.

But sometimes, a batted Hail Mary is the only score needed to win. The Chiefs proved that on Sunday.

“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the defense played really good,” head coach Todd Haley said. “I’m proud of those guys.”

Kansas City’s path to victory followed a blueprint that holds true at all levels of football. It’s not easy to win averaging just more than 3.5 yards per snap, but dominant defensive play paired with a positive turnover margin still wins games more often than not.

The Chiefs dominated on third down (Chicago converted 0/11 third down snaps and was 0/2 on fourth down attempts), tallied defensive takeaways (three interceptions) and forced enough negative plays (11 tackles for loss, including 7.0 sacks) to render the Bears offense inept.

Chicago gained less than 200 yards of total offense on 14 offensive possessions. Kansas City’s offense didn’t muster much better, but it managed to stay out of its own way.

“We’ve been able to be consistent number one, much more consistent on defense,” Haley said. “And then that gives you some flexibility on how you want to play offensively, depending on who you are playing.”

Kansas City’s defense had played winning football each of the past two games, but didn’t have a victory to show for wth their efforts.

A game plan that rendered Wes Welker anonymous and frustrated Tom Brady eventually collapsed in New England. Ben Roethlisberger’s big-play connection with Mike Wallace was stunted against Pittsburgh, but offensive miscues doomed the Chiefs.

“Things don’t always go according to plan,” said DE Tyson Jackson, who tallied one of Kansas City’s seven sacks. “I think at the same time you have to continue to work hard. Nothing out there is given. You have to go out there, grind every day and good things will happen.”

In Chicago, the offense did just enough to cash in on another stellar defensive effort.

“We were able to build off and not attach everything to the result, because there were losses through this little stretch,” Haley said. “But it looks like our guys were able to mentally say ‘Okay, we’re doing a lot good things, let’s keep doing those things and eliminate the things we don’t like.’

“I think you’re seeing that going on defense with our players and coaches, and everyone involved. Just a gritty, tough performance by everyone involved.”

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